on 17 May 2002
Witty and tragic, engaging and insightful, this work must be counted next to 'Brideshead Revisited' as Waugh's most enduring novel. Sword of Honour effortlessly treads the line between the personal and the political - it is at once an indictment of the incompetence of the Allied war effort, and a moving study of one man's journey from isolation to self fulfilment. The chaos of war throws up winners and losers in a way which is at once unpredictable and disconcerting - for many readers this work will be an invaluable lesson in the horrors (and petty joys) which war brings.
I love Evelyn Waugh's writing and was amazed to come across this and realize that I hadn't read it before. I took it on holiday with me, as it is a fairly weighty tome, being three novels in one. In his introduction Waugh writes that he wrote the three books as single volumes in order to make money, but that he always knew they would work best together in one volume and edited it accordingly.
It is semi-autobiographical, dealing with Waugh's experiences in WWII through the fictional life of Guy Crouchback, a socially inept aristocrat whose only real feeling is about his Roman Catholic faith. Waugh states in the introduction that he intended it to be his thoughts about the War, but on re-reading it, realises it is his eulogy to the Catholic church. I would say it's about fifty fifty and none the worse for that.
There are bright splashes of the satire to be found in Scoop and The Loved Ones here along with the tragedy and cynicism about society that colour A Handful of Dust and Brideshead Revisited, all set against the war being played out in London, Crete and the Balkans. It is touching and tragic and blackly funny, particularly the segment where Guy is sent for training on the isle of Mugg. A great book.
on 16 January 2000
A revealing, semi-autobiographical tale of EW's journey and ultimate spiritual fulfilment - 'Unconditional Surrender' - camouflaged under the guise of one Lt/Captain/Lt Guy Crouchback RC, Royal Corps of Halberdiers.
I found 'Officers & Gentlemen', the middle section of the three volumes quite by serendipity, long ago whilst on an extended holiday in Tobago, West Indies. Having previously read none of EW's work and with the requisite amount of time on my hands, I became utterly absorbed; and slightly irritated. It was a unique tale, and yet unsettling for some reason. I longed to read the first & last books in the series. Back in the UK and having sought out and read the rest of the trilogy, I began to understand something of the mastery of the language that this man possessed. His work demands much of the reader, and if the reader cares to respond, he or she will not be disappointed. I am no longer irritated or unsettled by his writing.
Funny, bitter, perceptive, witty, dry, deeply enjoyable but above all else, beautifully written.
Through Guy Crouchback, the detached observer and would be knight, who thought his private honour would be satisfied by war, Evelyn Waugh perfectly captures the bureaucracy, pettiness, absurdity, humour, and confusion of war. It all rings true with numerous little details that make this book so satisfying. It's everything that great literature should be - beautifully written, evocative. poignant, funny, tragic and profound.
I wonder how many of the great characters are also based on real people. I really want Jumbo Trotter, Apthorpe, Ludovic, Box-Bender, Trimmer Virginia, Peregrine, and - of course - Brigadier Ritchie-Hook to be real characters, as I do, the denizens of Bellamy's club.
In April 2013, I finally read Brideshead Revisited and was captivated from start to finish. You probably don't need me to tell you it's a masterpiece. Before embarking on Sword of Honour, I would never have believed that Evelyn Waugh could have written two masterpieces. He has. Brideshead Revisited and Sword of Honour. That's in addition to all the other wonderful fiction and non-fiction.
Epic and extraordinary. You really should read Sword of Honour. A wonderful book. 5/5
NOTE ABOUT DIFFERENT EDITIONS:
Sword of Honour was originally published as three separate volumes Men At Arms (1952), Officers and Gentlemen (1955), and Unconditional Surrender (1961), however Waugh extensively revised these books to create a one-volume version "Sword of Honour" in 1965, and it is this version that Waugh wanted people to read.
The Penguin Classics version of "Sword of Honour", contains numerous informative and interesting footnotes and an introduction by Angus Calder, each time Waugh changed the text there was a note. Most of these are notes about sections that Waugh has removed with a view to ensuring that his "hero" Guy Crouchback is perceived as more worldly and experienced than was the case in the original version of the books. I can see why Waugh would choose to change the emphasis in this way and I think it makes the overall narrative more convincing and effective.
on 5 April 2013
I read this trilogy many years age, and have been meaning to return to it for ages. This is the revised one volume version, and I was inspired to buy it by reading an interesting review in "Slightly Foxed", the excellent reader's quarterly magazine. I have not been disappointed. It is both funny and very touching, reflecting as it does Waugh's own war experience. I thoroughly recommend it.
on 25 March 2013
Wonderfully illuminating about the muddle, incoherent decisions, chance events, civilian life, accidental bravery, and social class dynamics of the second world war. Told with a wry but gently forgiving irony, with experiences in and outside Europe and a rich cast of characters: there are permutations of nobility, devoutness, promiscuity, self-absorption, snobbery, courage and craziness.
on 4 February 2013
Waugh's comment on war and the idiocy and futile waste. Dreams of glory and honour turn to a tired and mutedly cynical reminiscence of life in teh class-ridden British army of the 1940s.
Waugh's lapidary prose is a joy. He has a sublime ability to capture the zeitgeist of the upper classes, revealing their faults and passion and yet evoking a sympathy for the characters.
His style has been used as a template for so many TV costume dramas (other than the ones based on his novels) that it almost seems like parody. A wonderful trilogy written by an observer who was actually there at a pivotal time in western history. Great stuff.
on 30 March 2013
I have read this trilogy many times but each new time I enjoy it at least as much as the previous time. Waugh "gets" the British Army brilliantly. And he gets the futility of war brilliantly too. It is one of those books that has you laughing out loud and almost crying with sadness later on. If you have never read this book, rectify the situation immediately! You will not regret it.
on 10 August 2015
Sword of Honour is the title encompassing the consolidated version of the trilogy of books originally published separately as "Men at Arms", "Officers and Gentlemen" and "Unconditional Surrender". Evelyn Waugh prepared the consolidated version, making minor amendments to improve the flow and a slight change to the very last page, removing a final hopeful touch slightly at odds with the general theme of the adventures, misadventures and disappointments of Guy Crouchback, an honourable man trying to do his best to serve his country during the second World War.
There are many very funny moments involving the vast array of characters, some brave, some sharp, some sinister, playing out their roles in various divisions of the military and political war effort. Many real WWII incidents, slightly disguised, are portrayed giving a picture of the muddle and confusion of the complex war effort, leading to unexpected campaign successes or disasters. In the wake of these events as the campaign moves on, ordinary soldiers, refugees and civilians are abandoned to fend for themselves as best they may.
This is one of Evelyn Waugh's best efforts.
The channel 4 dramatization is an useful introduction to the books, but of necessity has to omit a lot and cannot convey the quality of Waugh's narrative. It is still available via the 4 on demand internet catch up service.
I have marked down one star because I prefer the original three volume text, one of my lifetime memorable reads.
on 28 March 2016
Years ago I read the trilogy with pleasure. Waugh effected some alterations to make it a single volume. It is an idiosyncratic classic. Humour is omnipresent, and the characters often bizarre - but that is life. This is a brilliant evocation of the period and the absurdities of army life. It also is a depiction of the Catholicism of the recusant gentry. Guy is no conventional hero, but I found him attractive. Waugh was not always personally attractive, but his military life gave rise to his greatest novel.